A breath of fresh spring air

A breath of fresh spring air from the Smithsonian American Art Museum in D.C., in spite of the 6-10 inches snow accumulations we have been warned to expect today in New York City!

Kenyon Cox, An Eclogue, 1890, oil on canvas
Robert Reid, The White Parasol, c. 1907, oil on canvas
Robert Reid, The White Parasol, c. 1907, oil on canvas (detail)
Arthur F. Mathews, Spring Dance, c. 1917, oil on canvas

”Arthur Mathews led a group of progressive Californians who believed that fine art and design served the public good. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he and his wife, Lucia, also a designer, led the effort to rebuild the city’s fine public spaces. The pastoral scene in Spring Dance evokes civic murals created for museums, libraries and concert halls. But Mathews had more on his mind than ancient Greece or Rome. His Arcadia is the luminous landscape of California, and the planes of color and the graceful postures of the dancers show the artist is also looking across the Pacific to Japan for inspiration. The ornate frame is a reproduction of the original. It repeats the colors in the painting, reflecting Mathews’ commitment to designing complementary furniture, art and architecture to create an aesthetic whole.”

Eastman Johnson, The Girl I Left Behind Me, c. 1870, oil on canvas
Childe Hassam, The South Ledges, Appledore, 1913, oil on canvas

”Childe Hassam spent many summers on Appledore Island off the coast of Maine. Every year, he and a circle of musicians, writers and other artists gathered as an informal colony based at the home of his friend, the poet Celia Thaxter. In Thaxter’s gardens and on the rocky beaches, Hassam used the flickering brushwork and brilliant colors he had adopted in France to capture the dappled light of Appledore’s brief summer. This painting evokes the leisurely, seasonal rhythms of America’s privileged families in the last years before the Great War. A beautifully dressed woman shields her face from the sun; she looks down and away, as if absorbed in the song of a sandpiper, the island bird that inspired Celia Thaxter’s most famous children’s poem.”

Childe Hassam, Tanagra (The Builders, New York), 1918, oil on canvas

”In Tanagra (The Builders, New York), Childe Hassam painted a complex image of modern life. At the turn of the twentieth century, the skyscraper symbolized all that was dynamic and powerful in America. Architects praised the new towers as symbols of mankind’s reach for the heavens. If the skyscraper represents worldly ambition, the other vertical elements in the painting – the lilies, the Hellenistic figurine, the panels of a beautiful oriental screen – suggest delight in the sophisticated cultural aspirations of American Society.

But as the United States grew in power and prestige, the workers who provided the nation’s muscle also seemed to threaten Hassam’s orderly and prosperous world. The artist had built his career picturing New York’s moneyed class; the art, music and fine manners surrounding what Hassam called a ”blond Aryan girl” are a world apart from the immigrants laboring to build the city’s future.”

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, In the Garden, 1892-94, oil on canvas
Thomas Wilmer Dewing, In the Garden, 1892-94, oil on canvas (detail)
John La Farge, Wreath of Flowers, 1866, oil on canvas


Smithsonian American Art Museum

April 25th, 2017

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